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Special x-rays used to study structure of viruses

18th February 2013

The Diamond Light Source centre in Oxford is to investigate the structure of pathogens responsible for illnesses including flu, hepatitis and AIDS.

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The national synchrotron facility uses diamond to take X-rays which are up to 10,000 stronger than light microscopes.

The centre has been working to create an environment in the lab where they can use diamond X-rays to image Containment Level 3 pathogens.

It will become only the second synchrotron facility in the world to do level 3 work. 

Dave Stuart, the life sciences director at the centre and a professor of structural biology at Oxford University spoke at the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He said: "Viruses, as you know, are sort of tiny nanomachines and you can't see them in a normal microscope. But with the crystallography and X-ray techniques we use, we are able to get about 10,000 times the resolution of the normal light microscope."

"This takes us from the regime of not being able to see them to being able to see individual atoms. And if we can look at 'live' viruses and get an atomic-level description of them, it opens up the possibility of using modern drug-design techniques to produce new pharmaceuticals." 

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